Daniel Thwaites | Seaga good nuh backside
On Tuesday, within hours of his death, The Gleaner called, asking me to say some words about Mr Edward Seaga’s passing, and in particular, on his penchant for courting and generating controversy. My response was that I couldn’t see how it was appropriate for ME to have any prominent say about how Mr Seaga ought to be remembered, or about his controversiality.
So many others know far more than I could ever possibly know, and Mr Seaga’s movements have been carefully charted by those who have either loved or hated him for years.
I thought and may have verbalised: “I dunno! Ask Martin Henry.” Serious. Dispassionate voices are difficult to come by regarding Papa Eddie. Is Martin work dat.
Anyhow, that attempted abdication of responsibility didn’t work. Immediately I canvassed some friends to test the temperature. I got what I expected.
Responses ranged from raging “Him is a wicked!” to the milder but still stern, “No hagiography! Seaga was no saint!” straight through to “He saved Jamaica!”
In other words, The Gleaner was right to focus on a story about Seaga’s controversiality and ability to get people screaming away.
For my part, I was raised to revere Mr Seaga’s nemesis, Michael Manley, and therefore, initially absorbed the copious anti-Seaga sentiment that was common currency in those precincts. But then, as life and experience have happened, I’ve had to on occasion stop and say to myself “Hey, wait a minute!”
Let’s keep it at a very basic level. First of all, the line between democratic socialism and flat-out communism can be exceedingly thin and permeable, and as most sane people (one must always acknowledge that sociopaths and psychopaths are plentiful) who have looked closely at the track record of the overly idealistic creeds will agree, they’ve consistently created nightmares.
Mr Seaga led at a time when it wasn’t possible to sit on the fence regarding some very fundamental issues. My admiration for Manley hasn’t ceased, but it has diminished with the recognition that in the late-’70s, he was ably steering the island off the rails. The economic facts are glaring, and facts don’t care about our feelings.
He courted controversy
In this respect, while it may be true that Seaga sometimes courted controversy, in that crucial instance, it would be equally true to say that he refused to shrink away from it. And while I have no problem haggling about the relative responsibility for the civil war that broke out, and that there is enough blame to go around to everyone when the haggling is done, I am personally contented that I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking satellite of Cuba.
Which brings us to the wonderful irony that because of their titanic decades-long confrontation, Mr Seaga and Mr Manley will be forever and inextricably linked.
Anyway, let me come at Mr Seaga’s passing from a somewhat different angle. About 20 years ago, I wrote an opinion column for The Gleaner in which I speculated that Eddie had fallen into the clutches of a comrade hairdresser who had proceeded to colour his hair orange. I had forgotten it, but Mr Seaga had not.
It had entertained him enough to recall it with a chuckle. I mention it not only to brag shamelessly that 20 years on I was responsible for some cheekiness that made the man laugh at himself, but because it illustrates in some minor way that the ‘One Don’ wasn’t always wearing the Don armor.
In fact, my experience was that a few moments with Eddie laid to waste many political myths about what a terrible demon he was, as nothing but grotesque fantasy.
In particular, when speaking about his family and children, he was evidently emotionally vulnerable and so candid that it was almost unsettling.
And yet we have to wrestle with the indisputable fact that in public life, particularly as a marshal in our undeclared civil war, Mr Seaga’s association with some very unsavoury characters is a matter of record. Are we obliged to try and draw up a balance sheet where the exigencies and compromises of that fratricidal struggle colours our appreciation of anything prior or subsequent?
My first observation is that a man’s life is not a matter of double-entry bookkeeping, as some moralists would like us to believe. But further, I remain mindful that we speak of terrible times in which very few, if any, acquitted themselves blamelessly. What is more, Mr Seaga lived long enough for any and everyone with an accusation to hurl, or an indictment to publish, to have their say.
REVERSED JAMAICA’S LEFTWARD-LURCH
To address all that, we have to veer into the philosophical for a moment.
Notice that when we use the word ‘good’ about our fellow human beings, it contains an important equivocation. We speak of Mother Theresa being ‘good’, and by that we mean she fed the poor, clothed the naked, and generally maintained a healthy conscience. I have no great judgement to pass about Mr Seaga in this respect, except to say that by all credible accounts, he made no personal fortune through his public service, but slaked his ambition by dedicating his time and energy to serving his countrymen as he saw fit.
More to the point, sometimes we speak of people being ‘good’ with the meaning that they are effective, fit for purpose, and perhaps even slightly dangerous.
Thus we also speak of men being good in the way that if a knife is to be good it has to cut well, maintain its sharpness, be well constructed and of high-quality materials, and so on.
This isn’t a general argument for amorality or immorality, just an honest appraisal of what we respect, admire, value, and need. And sometimes we need men who achieve what they set out to accomplish through skill, focus, decisiveness, and perhaps even ruthlessness.
As usual, with our colourfulness and aptitude for accurate expression, we capture this sense of goodness colloquially when we say: “Bwoy, him good nuh backside!”
So even though we like the Mother Teresas of this world, we also like the Julius Caesars. And we instinctively know that Teresa can’t be a Julius, and Julius has no interest or intention of being a Teresa. That’s the real deal.
Seaga interrupted and reversed Jamaica’s leftward-lurch. For that alone he has earned his place in the pantheon of the greats. The institution building, encouragement of culture and sports, and the thousands of other efforts, large and small, to encourage Jamaica and Jamaicans must, of course, also be added to his credit. All of which leaves us, in the final analysis, attesting that de one name Seaga, him did hard fi dead, and him did good nuh backside.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.